The Writer’s Block: An Interview with Tom Angleberger

On Twitter one day, I saw author Tom Angleberger commenting on what ingredients are in pickles and I knew I had to respond. Not only was he as surprised with pickles as I, he agreed to be a part of our Writer’s Block series. Every kid under the age of 18 knows Tom for his incredibly creative Origami Yoda series, but he has also written a number of other wonderful books (Fake Mustache, Horton Halfpott, Crankee Doodle to name a few).

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Middle Grade Mafia: Tom, thank you for taking the time to answer a few of our questions. We let authors take their time with answering, but you set a record by getting the answers back to me in an hour and a half.

Tom Angleberger: I didn’t want to get in troublemwith the Mafia, so I answered them right away!

MGM: Now Guido won’t pay you any visits… Tom, the journey to becoming a published author is something I find intriguing. How did Origami Yoda get from being queried to finding its home with Abrams?

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TA: My journey to getting a first book published was a rough one that almost gave me a nervous breakdown. And when I finally got that book published… it flopped.

Luckily, by then I had this idea cooking for a book about an origami Yoda. I wrote the book, but my editor didn’t like it the way it was. Completely rewrite it and then she’d take another look — no guarantees, but at least she’d look at it.

But, I didn’t want to rewrite it. I liked it the way it was. Luckily, my fantastic agent — Caryn Wiseman — backed me up and help me take it to Abrams.

At Abrams, I found a new editor who DID like it…. but worried that Lucasfilm wasn’t going to.

And here enters “the kid.”

The decision maker at Lucasfilm, took the book home and showed it to her kid… and he liked it!

MGM: You refer to your creative process as putting pieces of a puzzle together. Take us deeper into the “fussing and fussing” part of making all the pieces fit. Do you feel you work best with a big picture idea and breaking it down, focusing more on character development, or work more on plot points?

TA: I have never worked on character development for a minute. Well, that might be stretching it, but: I despise thinking about character development.

My characters are in charge. They’re going to do what they want. If they happen to develop then fine, if not…. then my editor gets antsy.

My books are all about what is going to happen next and what are the characters going to say about it. If I am thinking about what happens next and I start to hear the characters talking then I’m on the right track.

And, yes, when I’m thinking about what will happen next I am often drawing the “pieces” from my own experiences and observations. There are many, many true things in my books, but often I have had to turn them this way and that to make them fit.

MGM: Writers are known for taking things from their life and weaving it into their stories. What are some things you have incorporated into your stories?

TA: The very first chapter I wrote for Origami Yoda was about Origami Yoda helping a kid who loses and loses BADLY whenever he plays baseball. WHY? Because I lost and lost badly every time I played baseball.

From there the list goes on and on, there’s very little in the books that doesn’t have some basis in reality. From the embarrassing stain in book 1 to getting punched in the nose on a field trip in book 6.

MGM: Has George Lucas ever reached out to you to comment on the series?

TA: No, but other Lucasfilm folks have been incredibly supportive.

MGM: I saw that you have an adaptation of the Return of the Jedi coming out prior to the new Star Wars movie. First question on this is – HOW COOL IS THAT? Follow up question is how did you get this dream gig?

TA: It’s impossibly cool. You wouldn’t believe how much fun I had writing that book. Immersing myself in individual scenes from the movie and thinking about how to tell them and what extra information I could add. It’s going to be a book just PACKED with stuff.

Remember, “the kid” who told his mom he liked my book? Well, she called me up and asked me to write Jedi.

MGM: On your site, you mention your superpower (Asperger’s). I have ADD and consider it both a challenge and benefit to my creative process. How has Asperger’s effected you as a writer?

TA: Asperger’s is a challenge in MANY MANY parts of my life… but when it comes to making a book, it is all benefit.

Obsessions, neuroses, echolalia, awkward social interactions…. those are what my books are made of.

And then there’s the words. For me, Aspergers is an unending stream of words. I am “writing” all the time. Very hard to turn it off. It’s a problem a lot of the time and can actually attack me like Kryptonite.

But when I’m actually trying to get words to spill out onto a page, then it’s a Superpower.

MGM: Which Star Wars character do you like the most, relate to the most and wish you could play in the movies?

TA: I often say that Yoda is my favorite character, but in truth it is hard to choose.

When writing Return of the Jedi, I realized that I related more to R2D2 and C3P0 then the human heroes.

I wouldn’t want to play anyone in the movies, but I’d love to work in the prop department!

The Mafia would like to thank Tom for his openness and sharing. We look forward to his version of Return of the Jedi and everything else he does. To keep in touch with the latest from Tom, visit his website and follow him on Twitter.


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